Life after Success
In my role as a coach whose primary client focus are those who have already achieved significant measures of success, a single question or theme recurs and pervades the conversation: What next?
It is no small issue, especially as we become healthier, live longer, and achieve sooner. For many, what was meant to be the grand finale has taken place midlife, and the need to define another chapter before settling down into a meaningful classic retirement becomes a necessity. More recent developments within the field of applied psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) highlights the need for individuals to be purposefully engaged in activities that meaningfully gratify them to maintain their physical health. This elevates the seriousness of the way we think about life after success beyond a financial and “keeping busy” conversation, to a vitality and longevity one.
Unfortunately the subject of life after success is a far less familiar one, and many individuals in this space are largely left to figure it out for themselves. The unfamiliar territory and assumed lack of expertise means that it is entered into by default. Theorists have bridged the subject at an academic level. Most concur with the idea of evolvement beyond the peak of one’s formal career. It has been defined as a transition from full leadership to eldership, and even from strategist to alchemist (or magician). Regardless of the labelling applied, they concur that the transition involves stewardship, the inclusivity of others, and a broader system perspective.
These are important considerations, as a young leader commented to me recently that he would hate to end up as one of those old CEO’s that never seem able to let go and transition beyond the need to be at the helm of a big business. His reflection carried a note of truth, as the temptation for those who have achieved greatness is to continue to try and recreate their success by finding the next big thing, at the expense of transitioning well. For the most part I have found the reverse to be true, a deep yearning to write the next chapter of their lives well. Here are a few important considerations:
Stewardship is taking appropriate care of that which has been entrusted to you. For those whom have achieved success, it is developing an awareness of what has brought that success and transforming its use to deserving endeavours. Where previously one’s talents and capabilities were solely utilised for the benefit of self and one’s direct working environment, these are now seen as being gifts that have the power to serve and make a difference in causes that were previously marginal concerns.
2. Inclusivity of others
The temptation when transitioning beyond a corporate context is to isolate oneself, which flies in the face of everything one’s final great chapter should be about. If full leadership involved focused engagement with select individuals, eldership extends its focus and selection criteria as it is not dictated to by driven goal achievement. Growing older gracefully or growing up well is defined by acceptance. Thinking changes from either/or to both/and.
3. Broader system perspective
This is the big one, as it is truly the hallmark of transformed thinking that signifies transition. “My world” thinking changes to “the world” thinking. In other words, care, consideration, and concern extends beyond the boundaries of individual interest. The ability to align and connect these three elements to one’s personal story and develop a narrative that makes one’s life make sense is what defines an individual who has transitioned well. I am going to share a personal example of what this looks like. I am privileged to fulfil roles that perfectly aligned to and are authentic expressions of myself. It is a gratifying, rewarding, meaningful, and purposeful life. Granted, it was a long journey which will continue to unfold, but I am on track.
Much of what allows me to do my job well, I can attribute to having walked where my clients have before and at an earlier time in my life. For this reason you can understand the transition I have described as being a personal one, a component of which I will refer to. I have long beeng passionate about animal anti-cruelty, specifically domestic animals which are completely dependent on us for everything – purposefully bred over centuries to this end. It is the one thing I would want to see change on the planet, and is as important to me as any lofty ideological idea you could describe. For many years I struggled to see how I could make a meaningful difference, other than donating some money here and there.
I more recently was made acutely aware of a number of situations in which there was need in this regard. In my reflection I realized that while I could not directly make a significant difference, I had trusted access to very senior individuals in some of the largest organisations who could easily resource these endeavours. The example may seem trivial but serves the purpose: I viewed my trusted relationships as a steward of my gifting, I inclusively engaged for a purpose other than my own, and my perspective extended beyond my context. The narrative made sense and allowed for a few sentences to be written in a chapter of my life.
I was recently speaking with a CEO that was leaving a large company, and her concern was what was to come next for her. She had served as a role model for many upcoming leaders nationally, and was concerned about what they wanted from her next. My answer was simple, elegant and absolutely right: They want another chapter, very different to the previous one. This one won’t be defined by how epic it is in relation to the others, but by how beautifully it allows the lead character to exit.
IN BLACK & WHITE | Mark Holtshousen
by Mark Holtshousen